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dog owner caring for small breed puppy by giving them a puppy dog treat outside in the grass

Caring for a Puppy as They Grow Up: 12 Tips on How to Raise a Puppy

Puppies are irresistibly cute. Each antic and expression is adorable. It’s easy for pet owners to overlook that taking one home means you’re agreeing to all the doghood responsibilities that come with the joys of puppydom. But it’s totally understandable after you’ve had one look at those big, sparkly eyes and that tiny pink tongue! You hold a warm, soft-tummied, trusting little pup as it dozes off in your arms, and that’s it: You’re in love. 

When it finally hits you that you’re now a pet parent, you just need some good advice for caring for a puppy — and you’re already off to a good start! Here are some of the top puppy development questions people have on their minds, and our tips for finding the right answer for you and your new best friend. 

 

large breed puppy dog running and playing outside in a grassy field

1. How long is your dog a puppy? 

As you’ll discover with most aspects of dog care, the parameters are largely dependent on your dog’s specific breed and size. Generally speaking, smaller dogs mature sooner and have longer lifespans, while bigger dogs mature later and have shorter lifespans. For a more accurate assessment, your vet can help predict and then confirm your pet’s developmental stages. 

These ranges are typical for small to large dogs: 

  • The puppy stage could be up to 9 months to 1 year and as long as 18 months. 
  • Adolescence is next, from about 1 year of age to as late as 3 years of age. 
  • Congratulations, they’ve reached adulthood! 
  • The senior stage starts between 6 and 8 years of age — again, this depends on breed and size, but is also affected by their overall health and wellness (health history, past injuries, etc.). 

 

vet smiling while holding small breed puppy dog on counter as the puppy licks the veterinarian's face

2. When should my puppy see the vet? 

Caring for a puppy means seeing your vet at 8, 12 and 16 weeks of age. These early exams are essential for evaluating your puppy’s health and well-being, and having this medical history throughout your dog’s life will help you and your veterinarian make the best care decisions at every stage. 

3. When should my puppy get their shots?

Certain vaccine immunizations are recommended (or even required, depending on where you live) for all dogs. Core vaccines protect your puppy against infections associated with severe or fatal illness, infections that are highly contagious and zoonotic diseases (something that can spread from canines to humans). Additional non-core vaccinations may be recommended for individual dogs with unique needs and in specific geographical locations. 

At your first puppy health exam, the vet will explain the vaccines and may administer one or more at that initial visit. Puppies are administered specific vaccines at planned intervals over the first year. For adult dogs, some vaccines are required annually and some are required every three years — the schedule is based on the particular vaccine and local laws. 

Core vaccines include: 

  • DA2PPV — for distemper, adenovirus type 2 (hepatitis), parvovirus, parainfluenza 
  • Bordetella 
  • Rabies

Non-core vaccines include: 

  • Leptospirosis 
  • Canine Influenza (H3N8 and H3N2) 

4. When should my puppy get spayed or neutered?

Spaying or neutering is recommended when they are at least 6 months of age, but your vet might suggest different timing based on your puppy’s breed or other considerations. Most dogs reach sexual maturity around 6 months, which means they’re biologically able to reproduce if given the opportunity — don’t let your puppy make more puppies!

gray medium size puppy dog running through grass holding and playing with a blue holely ball

5. Why is puppy play important and part of a normal puppy behavior?

From about 3 weeks of age, puppies spend a lot of time playing with their littermates — it’s part of how they learn to follow the pack leader’s example and avoid inappropriate behavior. After 8 to 9 weeks, playtime with other pups begins to decrease, and this is when you want to build on that early socialization. Play is a big part of caring for a puppy, and playtime with your pup not only strengthens your bond, but also reinforces skills they’ve learned to set them up for healthy social relationships with other dogs later. Not to mention, play is great exercise and a fun addition to any fitness routine. 

6. How do I find the right nutrition for my puppy?

A  healthy and happy life starts with high-quality foods formulated to meet the nutritional needs of growing puppies. Shopping all the brands and varieties promoting puppy nutrition can be overwhelming, so look for foods that support your puppy’s breed and are formulated to support healthy immunity, brain and eye development, and bone and joint strength. 

beagle puppy dog standing on wood kitchen floor eating dog food out of black dog bowl

 

7. When should I switch to adult dog food for my puppy?

You realize right away that caring for a puppy is like powering a dynamo. Puppy food has more calories than adult dog food because your pup needs fuel for all that activity. You’ll want to switch to an adult formula as your puppy’s growth slows, which can be difficult to discern. In that case, breed size is yet again a decent yardstick: 

  • Small: 9-12 months 
  • Medium: Around 12 months 
  • Large: 12-18 months 
 

2 veterinarians checking teeth health of small breed white puppy dog

8. When will my puppy lose their baby teeth?

Little puppy teeth begin coming in about 2 weeks of age and fall out between 12 and 16 weeks. Don’t be surprised if you start to notice the rice-sized teeth scattered throughout your home. 

Teething can be painful, so provide soft, flexible chew toys that will help relieve the discomfort safely. Around 6 months old, your puppy should have all of their adult teeth. At your puppy’s appointments, your vet should be checking to make sure teeth are coming and going as expected. 

white and brown small breed puppy dog at the groomers getting dog fur brushed by dog groomer

9. When will my puppy grow their adult coat?

Puppy fur is short and fuzzy. The fur on adult dogs is generally coarser and a bit longer. Around 6 months of age to 1 year, the puppy fuzz sheds and the adult version replaces it. You can help keep their coat shiny and healthy with regular brushing (which also helps with shedding). 

10. When is it time for my puppy to take dewormer medication?

Puppies can contract intestinal parasites from other animals, or even from their mother in utero or from nursing. Even if you don’t see anything in your puppy’s poops, have your veterinarian perform a fecal screening at your first visit to make sure any parasites present are identified and treated. 
 
It’s also a good idea to ask your vet about heartworm prevention and flea/tick treatments. These are as much of a risk to puppies as to adult dogs, so it’s never too soon to be thinking about them — just don’t administer anything without first consulting your puppy’s vet. 

light brown medium sized puppy dog sitting in ring on grass obeying dog owner outside, getting dog treat

11. When will my puppy "mature" into an adult dog?

It happens so gradually it can go unnoticed, but one day you’ll suddenly realize that your puppy hardly acts out anymore and gets into less trouble: they’ve become a dog! Emotional maturity is the result of a hormonal balance that occurs somewhere between 1 year and 18 months. Your puppy settles down, listens to cues and responds without resistance — their adult personality has emerged.

12. When will my puppy calm down?

Moving at a mile a minute is perfectly normal puppy behavior, but that energy level tends to dip as they reach adulthood (except for certain breeds that are naturally more active through their adult years). The transition to adulthood is also generally marked by a decrease in that stereotypical unwanted behavior: chewing furniture, shoes and so on. If you’re concerned about unruly energy or your young dog acting out, puppy classes can make training your little buddy easier on you and them. 

Just make sure that the change in activity is normal and doesn’t lead your dog to a sedentary lifestyle. Assuming it isn’t a medical condition (something your vet can help you rule out), a less energetic dog might need you to encourage more play and socialization — your dog needs enrichment throughout their whole life! Keep your dog exercising, spend time training and give them lots of love. 

 

Every day of your dog’s life is full of joy. Cherish each stage, from roly-poly puppy to awkward adolescent to confident adult to wise old friend. There are so many wonderful moments to come and memories to share through caring for your puppy. No matter what future you dream of, the best thing you can do right now is keep your puppy happy, healthy and safe as you begin a lifetime of adventures together. 

 
 
 

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